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Closed impeachment meetings underscore lack of transparency

John Tristian

PIERRE, SD – A legislative panel has been discussing the possibility of impeachment proceedings against South Dakota’s attorney general. A statewide government observer says the meetings themselves reveal transparency problems that, in his view, are too common in Pierre.

The agenda of the House committee considering the removal of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg includes several executive sessions closed to the media and public. Given the magnitude of the situation, said John Tsitrian, co-publisher of the nonpartisan blog South Dakota Standard, these groups shouldn’t be left in the dark.

“We just have to accept what’s going on behind closed doors,” he said, “without getting the kind of information that would help us make decisions about whether these people are doing the right thing, the wrong thing, the political thing.”

He also expressed nepotism concerns surrounding Gov. Kristi Noem, and the recent handling of her daughter’s application for a real-estate appraiser’s license. Noem has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. In recent years, South Dakota has gotten low marks in national rankings for state government accountability and transparency.

When voters head to the polls in 2022, Tsitrian said, they should do their best to research candidates and strongly consider those who detail plans for a more open government.

“That’s probably the most practical way for the public to approach it right now,” he said, “and then, at some point, there probably could be a process where some entity takes a look at our existing transparency laws.”

He argued that vetting of candidates would be an important step, and noted that the current administration made similar promises.

Noem also has faced backlash over access to travel expenses for appearances in other states.

Calls for Ravnsborg’s removal began after he fatally struck a pedestrian in 2020, avoiding jail time through a plea deal. He contended that the news media reported false claims about the incident, but Noem and others have criticized the deal and demanded his removal.

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